The Florida Senate passed legislation on April 20 that would remove the special tax district and self-governing status that was granted to Disney as lawmakers have criticized the company for opposing a parental rights bill.
The chamber, which was called into a special session by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, passed the bill in a 23–16 vote. The measure would dissolve Disney’s special status within Florida, which allows the firm to self-govern its property—including Disney World—around Orlando. Specifically, the measure would dismantle the 50-year-old Reedy Creek Improvement District that allows the corporation to oversee its infrastructure laws, zoning, and even policing.
The Republican-led Florida House will now take up the measure. Disney hasn’t issued a public statement on the matter, and its corporate headquarters didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.
A 1967 law passed by Florida’s House and Senate created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but DeSantis recently told legislators that Florida’s Constitution “generally disfavors” laws that provide special privileges to corporations.
When announcing the special session on April 19, DeSantis said lawmakers “will be considering the congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968, and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” although he didn’t mention Disney by name. The legislation, if it passes in the House, would also remove privileges from six other special districts in Florida because they were set up before the state’s Constitution was ratified in 1968.
As the Senate passed the bill on April 20, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told media outlets that the move to revoke the Reedy Creek Improvement District wasn’t retaliatory after Disney criticized a separate measure that DeSantis recently signed into law.
“It was unfortunate that Disney decided to wade into a political debate and attempt to overturn a common-sense law, enacted by a duly elected legislature and signed by a duly elected governor, with the support of the vast majority of Floridians,” Pushaw said. “In fact, it was Disney that ‘retaliated’ by publicly vowing to ‘repeal’ or have the law ‘struck down.’”
Democrats quickly criticized DeSantis’s backing of the legislation and claimed it was tantamount to retribution against Disney. Others claimed that Disney, which employs tens of thousands of people, is a major economic player in the state.
“What world are we living in right now?” Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson asked, according to The Associated Press. “It’s the freedom state of Florida. If they disagree with the governor, he brings out the Gatling gun.”
DeSantis, a Republican, has criticized Disney’s public pressure campaign and criticism over legislation that he recently signed that prohibits classroom instruction on “gender identity” and sexual orientation for small children.
“Look, there [are] policy disputes, and that’s fine,” DeSantis told reporters earlier in April. “But when you’re trying to impose a woke ideology on our state, we view that as a significant threat.”
In late March, Disney issued a statement saying that “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.” Although the law doesn’t make any reference to prohibiting saying the word “gay,” the “Don’t Say Gay” phrase has also been repeatedly used by celebrities, activists, and Democratic lawmakers since the bill was proposed.
Disney, which drew widespread condemnation for the critical comments, also said it’s “dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
DeSantis-Disney fight intensifies: New developments